- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2008

It’s a diesel with an electric personality.

That’s a fair description of the 2009 BMW 335d sports sedan. It is the first diesel passenger car in 23 years from the Bavarian Motor Works in the United States, and is being sold alongside the 2009 X5d, which is BMW’s first sport utility diesel here.

Diesel engines are all about two things: fuel economy and tremendous low-rpm torque, or twisting force. Torque is measured in pounds-feet and, like horsepower, the higher the number the more power you get.

The BMW 335d has 265 horsepower, which is respectable enough in a compact sedan that weighs 3,825 pounds. But it also has an eye-popping 425 pounds-feet of torque, which is as much or more than engines in some big pickup trucks. The new Dodge Ram pickup, for example, has a 5.7-liter V8 engine with 407 pounds-feet of torque.

It means that, if you were so inclined and the car was equipped properly, you could use your 335d to pull out the proverbial tree stumps.

The pinnacle of torque occurs in electric motors. They produce their maximum torque as soon as they are switched on, which is why they don’t need transmissions. No combustion engine, even a diesel, can duplicate that instant force.

But the 335d’s engine approaches it, which is why this new BMW can be said to have an electric personality.

The engine is a 3-liter, in-line six-cylinder-a configuration that BMW has faithfully developed throughout its history. Boosted by twin turbochargers, it delivers its maximum torque at a mere 1,500 revolutions per minute, which is only a bit above idle speed and gives it an instant-on character approaching that of an electric motor.

Of course, it requires a transmission to feed that power to the rear wheels. BMW is famous for its dedication to manual gearboxes, but it did not have one strong enough to handle the diesel’s torque. So the only transmission available is a six-speed automatic.

It has a manual-shift mode for enthusiasts who like to orchestrate their own revolutions. Shifting is controlled by the console-mounted shift lever unless you order the optional sport package, in which case you also get steering-wheel mounted shift paddles, bigger wheels and a slightly stiffer suspension system.

But you don’t really need them. The standard 335d has everything anybody might want in a sports sedan. Step on the go pedal and the 335d’s diesel delivers its hefty torque right now. There’s no hesitation and no turbo lag. The surge continues through the gears. But there’s no hint from inside that it’s a diesel; it’s as quiet as a gasoline engine.

With urea injection, it meets 50-state emissions standards.

If you opt for the manual mode, you can hold the 335d in specific gears-driving on hilly, twisting mountain roads, for example. But the BMW engineers don’t trust you

If the driver should over-rev the engine in the manual mode, the transmission automatically shifts up to prevent engine damage.

Despite the fact that the 335d weighs 220 pounds more than the 335i, its gasoline-engine garage-mate, the diesel does not shrink from wheel-to-wheel competition. It can hit 60 miles an hour from rest in six seconds, with a top speed of 131 miles an hour, according to BMW tests.

Yet because it’s a diesel, it delivers outstanding fuel economy-23/36 miles per gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycles.

The equivalent 335i with the six-speed automatic transmission has a zero-to-60 time of 5.6 seconds, a top speed of 130 and city/highway fuel consumption of 17/26.

When you combine the diesel’s performance with BMW’s customary tactile feel, sharp steering, balanced handling and supple suspension system, you have a satisfying driver experience regardless of whether you’re hammering along deserted country byways or simply tooling around the city. However, although the 335d stays pinned to the pavement, the ride is choppy on rough surfaces.

As a compact sports sedan, the 335d has a few shortcomings. With a sharply raked windshield and low roofline, it’s not easy to get into and out of either the front or back seats.

The outboard back seats cannot accommodate anyone more than about 5 feet 10 inches tall, and the center-rear seating position is impossible.

But this is a driver’s car, and the front seats are supportive, even laterally, and comfortable for long-distances. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, but the sun visors do not slide on their support rods and so do a poor job of blocking sun from the side. Instruments do not have daytime lighting, but have easy to read white-on-black markings.

Because diesel engines ignite the fuel-air mixture by compression instead of spark plugs, diesel engines must be built stronger and are therefore more expensive. The tested 335d had a starting price of $44,725, compared to $42,250 for the gasoline 335i. But because of its fuel economy, it may be eligible for a $900 federal tax rebate.

With options that included a navigation system, satellite radio, leather upholstery, a cold weather package and a parking assist system the test car had a suggested delivered price of $52,170.

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